Monday, November 07, 2011

Battle of Tippecanoe Bicentennial

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Tippecanoe, which occurred in the Indiana Territory and pitted U.S. Army regulars, militia, and volunteers under the command of Gov. William Henry Harrison, who would briefly be Ninth President of the United States nearly 30 years later, against Indians following the leadership of Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, brother of the famed Tecumseh.

"The white settlers of the Indiana Territory were disturbed by the increasing activities and power of Tecumseh's followers," notes the Tippecanoe County Historical Association. "In the late summer of 1811, the governor of the territory, Gen. William Henry Harrison, organized a small army of 1,000 men, hoping to destroy [Prophet's Town, which had been founded by Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa] while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The regiment arrived on November 6, 1811, and upon meeting with representatives of the Prophet, it was mutually agreed that there would be no hostilities until a meeting could be held on the following day. Harrison's scouts then guided the troops to a suitable campsite on a wooded hill about a mile west of Prophet's Town.

"Upon arriving at the site, Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery of the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.

"Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until the confederation was strong and completely unified, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them, the Prophet led his men near the army campsite. From a high rock ledge west of the camp, he gave an order to attack just before daybreak on the following day.

"The sentinels were ready, and the first gunshot was fired when the yells of the warriors were heard. Many of the men awoke to find the Indians upon them. Although only a handful of the soldiers had had previous battle experience, the army bloodily fought off the reckless, determined Indian attack. Two hours later, thirty-seven soldiers were dead, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded. The Indian casualties were unknown, but their spirit was crushed. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him.

"The demoralized Indians left Prophet's Town, abandoning most of their food and belongings. When Harrison's men arrived at the village on November 8, they found only an elderly Indian woman, whom they left with a wounded chief found not far from the battlefield. After burning the town, the army began their painful return to Vincennes."

Tenskwatawa survived, finally dying in 1836, and never again enjoyed the kind of following he had in 1811. Tecumseh died in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames in Canada, an engagement in the War of 1812, fighting soldiers under the command of William Henry Harrison. Richard Mentor Johnson, Ninth Vice President of the United States, also participated in that battle.

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